What to expect when riding the Etape Caledonia sportive
The UK’s original closed roads cycling sportive, the Etape Caledonia takes place on May 19, 2019, and there are still places left on the 85 mile route, and charity places for the 40 miler. If you are new to this sportive or to sportives in general, this article will give you an insight into what to expect.
First things: What is the Etape Caledonia?
Some 35,000 people have taken part in the Etape Caledonia, a mass participation cycling event, since it launched in 2007. I have enjoyed the longer route several times.
This year, the sell-out sportive has 5000 places on offer with cyclists coming from all over the country.
There is a choice of two routes through beautiful Perthshire countryside:
- 40-mile and 85-mile routes on closed roads, both starting and finishing in Pitlochry.
What to expect on the Etape Caledonia
Pitlochry is the focus for the start and finish of both Etape Caledonia routes and with so many cyclists, spectators and volunteers in the Perthshire town on one day it means you’ll enjoy an up-beat atmosphere.
To me, the start of a sportive feels like a big outdoors party, with everyone having the same aim: To get out and enjoy a bike ride in beautiful countryside.
At the start line there is sense of anticipation and excitement. Some people will be feeling a few nerves about cycling the sportive, although once they take their first few pedal strokes this usually disappears. It’s perfectly normal to feel a bit nervous if you are riding a new route or a longer distance than ever before.
It will be busy
With 5000 places across two sportives on offer, there is no doubt the starting area and the first few miles of each route will be busy with riders. It’s a good idea to be prepared for this and to ride with caution so that you do not end up bumping into each other.
If you are worried about this you should try to start at the back of the riders and take you time to pedal the first miles.
The numbers of riders soon space out and form smaller groups and pairings of cyclists.
It’s worth noting, too, that if you are arriving on the day of the sportive you will need to leave time to find a parking place and to get to registration (registration on the day is only for “premium” entries). Many people choose to make a weekend of the sportive and stay overnight on Saturday. This is usually my preferred option.
You can expect the event village to have lots going on before the event, including Saturday entertainment such as talks, live music and a food stall.
Riders have to register at the event village on the Saturday, the day before the sportive, unless you have a “premium place”, which allows you to register on the day of the event.
Friendship and cameraderie
Whether you start as a solo rider and meet up with other people cycling at a similar speed, or you enter the sportive with friends, the Etape Caledonia offers a great camaraderie.
With closed roads and no traffic there is the freedom to ride in pairs and bunches and to enjoy chatting to each other and getting to know other people.
I like to participate in a sportive with a cycling friend and I look forward to the event as a time to catch up on our chat and gossip as we roll through the miles.
I usually meet people I know, too, and it’s lovely to be able to exchange words and chat during the ride.
Fund-raising for charity
The Etape Caledonia offers the opportunity to raise funds for the partner charity, Marie Curie Cancer Care. You’ll see lots of riders wearing the charity cycle jerseys. Find out more about the charity partner.
A sense of belonging
Increasingly numbers of people now cycle, especially women, and that gives privileged access to a growing cycling community. It doesn’t matter what your fitness level is or your shape and size, you are a cyclist and you belong.
I have always found the cycling community to be very friendly and welcoming. I also enjoy taking part in mass participation events because most cyclists are so supportive of each other.
The most beautiful views
Perthshire is acclaimed for its stunning landscapes. Rolling hills, mountains, heather-covered moorland, lush woodland, rivers, lochs and pretty villages and towns combine to create a fantastic backdrop for the Etape Caledonia routes.
With two routes, 40 miles and 85 miles, on closed roads it’s a joy to be able to look around as you pedal. There are no worries about motorised vehicles and I am sure I see far more during closed road sportives than on any other type of ride.
I also think that the countryside looks so much better at cycling pace and from outside of a motor vehicle. It’s much more up close and personal.
If you ask me to choose between a flat bike route and a hilly one, I’ll choose the latter every time. I enjoy the variation of the terrain and I like the challenge of riding up the hills and then free-wheeling the downhills.
The biggest challenge on the 85-mile Etape Caledonia route is the climb of Schiehallion. The climb is about five miles and includes an elevation gain of 736ft.
I confess I was anxious about his climb beforehand but I found it to be easier than expected, especially as I stayed in a very easy gear. I was worried it would be so steep that I would need to get off my bike and push but I managed to keep pedalling.
There were plenty of riders who did decided to walk and push their bikes uphill and that’s absolutely fine but you should expect a few hills on this sportive and for a more enjoyable ride you might want to check out my training tips for the Etape Caledonia.
Be prepared for the Scottish weather
Most people will know all about Scotland’s fickle weather. While May is often a month when the weather can be wonderfully summery, this is not always the case.
Looking back I was sure I have ridden the Etape Caledonia only in warm and sunny conditions but the photos reveal I have rose-tinted specs! It seems it was chilly enough for me to wear a cycling jacket over my jersey on one occasion.
It’s a good idea to check the weather forecast the day before the sportive and dress in appropriate cycle clothing. Pop a waterproof jacket in a back pocket just in case. I also wear arm warmers and sometimes leg warmers, too, because if the sun comes out or I heat up I can take these off and pop them in a pocket.
Fabulous food stations
If you prefer to eat your own snacks that’s fine, but then you might miss out on the amazing food stations on the Etape Caledonia. I was surprised by the range of different foods and snacks – and the quantity on offer.
In fact, I am fairly sure I ate more calories than I burned because the snacks – especially the cakes – were so delicious. I also stopped at more food stations than I normally do in mass participation events simply because they looked so tempting.
Mass participation events bring out the local crowds, as well as the families and friends of riders. I thoroughly enjoyed the support on the sides of the road of the Etape Caledonia. I remember the support being some of the best I have ever experienced in a cycling event.
It’s great to have people cheering you on and telling you how far you have come or how far you have to go.
The last 5 to 10 miles will be hard
Whether you are cycling the sportive distance for the first time or you have decided to ride it fast, the final section is always the hardest. If you can cycle with a friend or a group at this point you will find the miles roll by just that bit easier.
Also remind yourself how far you have come – and what you will do when you finish. I usually like to drink a pint of lime and soda followed by a nicely chilled bottle of beer! And then fill up on a big meal.
There will always be fast riders…
I am frequently impressed by how fast the front riders finish a sportive. One year, when the route was 81 miles, the first guy took 3:26:01, while the first woman finished in 3:41: 01.
These are very good times for the distance and the number of hills, yet a sportive doesn’t have to be about speed.
Some people took seven hours to finish and I was somewhere in the middle. I don’t see a sportive as a race, rather it’s an event that can be enjoyed at whatever speed you fancy going at.
A sportive medal
Everyone who completes the sportive – both distances – will receive a medal. A medal is a great reminder of wha you have achieved.
Finish line fun
I love a post-race atmosphere. Everyone is tired but happy and the Etape Caledonia is no different. I try to change my sweaty baselayers as soon as I can so I can enjoy relaxing with the other riders, enjoying some early reminiscing about the ride and enjoying a drink and a bite to eat.
Also read my blog: 21 things I learned while riding the Etape Caledonia in 2014.
Find out more and secure your place at Etape Caledonia 2019.
- I was invited by the organisers to write this post and I was paid to do so.